July 10, 2010
The July edition of the Penang Economic Monthly is out! This time I co-author a piece with gender expert Dr. Cecilia Ng on the issue of Democratising Women. Gender and politics in Malaysia is changing rapidly with the Pakatan Rakyat having a significant number of women representatives. What have the Selangor and Penang state governments done to advance the gender reform agenda?
Tricia Yeoh and Cecilia Ng
Part of the excitement associated with the post-political tsunami of March 8th 2008 when Pakatan Rakyat (PR) took over four (now three) state governments was that it signalled a greater democratisation of the country’s polity. This process certainly includes the transition towards making the practice of deeply entrenched public power more transparent and accountable, the debates of which have indeed since flourished at both Federal and State levels. Today, we have both the Barisan Nasional and PR component parties championing the labels of transparency and accountability in a political market competition of sorts, the evaluation of which is at the public’s disposal, and the results of which are tabulated at elections – or so the process ought to be.
That said, another fundamental aspect of this process of ‘greater democratisation’ is that of inclusive citizenship, where all individuals in society should be empowered to contribute to the formation and practice of public policy – the drawing upon private citizens into public spheres so to speak. Academics have argued that although democracy is premised on the idea of universal citizenship where everyone has the right to be treated equally under the law, it tends to reflect the male and heterosexual citizen. The redefinition of politics is therefore necessary to challenge the practice of it being essentially male-dominated and heteronormative.
The same is true of Malaysia, whose male-dominant political representation has resulted in gender-skewed policies and practices. Who can forget, for example, one Parliamentarian’s brash remarks referring to a fellow woman Member of Parliament’s menstrual cycle in utterly distasteful humour? More serious, however, are the impacts of such similar strains of thought upon the laws that govern the country, and in turn, the implications of those on women. One of the solutions has been through a model of ‘fast-tracking’ to redress the historic exclusion of women, where more and more countries are adopting quotas, as temporary measures, for increased political representation for women. The goal is to ensure both descriptive and substantive representation of women in the political arena.
There are 13.9 million women in the country, making up % of the national population. The participation rate of women in the Malaysian labour force increased from 44.7% in 1995 to 46.4% in 2009, which is relatively low compared to neighbouring countries like Thailand (70%), Singapore (60.2%) and Indonesia (51.8%). In positions of decision-making, the number of female Members of Parliament increased from 5.3% to 10.4% between 1990 and 2009. Women now account for 30.5% of top public sector management positions in 2010, a rise from 6.9% in 1995. However, in the private sector women only make up 6.1% of Malaysia’s corporate directors.
July 4, 2010
Amir Muhammad and team always seem to have some project or other up their sleeve. I appreciate their creativity in a Malaysian society that is just too willing to go with the flow, without any initiative on new and fresh ideas. So their project Gol? is yet another addition, a breath of fresh air to the stale rot, I mean, political condition, of Malaysia. They’ve gathered authors to write on their experiences and thoughts whilst watching the 2010 World Cup being staged in South Africa, from local mamak stalls and such. It’s been interesting to observe the variety of writing styles and content of each author.
I was invited to contribute a piece on the last Quarter Final match, between Paraguay and Spain. Yes, Spain won. And yes, my piece lacks football punditry (I am not a football pundit), and is bone-dry as it analyses history and policy somewhat. But here it is for your consumption.
by Tricia Yeoh
The world is flat, and so is the football field. But the international flavour of any World Cup offers other historical sub-themes that are unseen at face value. Here you have the gathering of once-upon-a-time colonisers and their former colonies, put together in the spirit of apparent sporting unity and brotherhood. Never mind that their forefathers once had you under their thumb for centuries, putting you in a position of subordination. No, the World Cup erases all national memory. Come to the pitch and think about the game. Nothing else matters.
Or does it?
This psychological love-hate relationship of coloniser-colony is something Malaysians have equally struggled with. The British left us with infrastructure, schools, language, and a legal and constitutional framework of governance, which were positive contributions. But they also initiated a divide-and-rule system, conveniently classifying our wide variety of ethnicities into categories of ‘race’, which we have inherited today, causing us to think of Malaysians as largely homogeneous definitions of “Malay, Chinese, Indian”. We have not been able to rise above this particular negative effect the British left behind. In fact, this tragedy and its political consequences may be the singular cause for all other problems faced, including Malaysia’s inability to shine in international football.
This quarter-finals pitted Spain against its former colony, Paraguay. Although Paraguay achieved its independence relatively early compared to other Spanish conquests in South America, almost 300 years of authoritarian Spanish rule had a detrimental effect on their people, in terms of poverty, lack of access to education and undemocratic practices. Paraguay would thereafter succumb to dictatorship and civil unrest, leading it to a struggling economy which still exists today, with about 60% of its people living in poverty.
But their fighting spirit at Ellis Park tonight bore no resemblance to these conditions. Although the first half ended with no goals on either side, Paraguay showed its brute confidence and bravado in pushing forward, never giving up despite their disadvantaged position. They were, after all, up against the team that topped the bookmakers’ odds in winning the World Cup (that is, before Spain’s first game).
June 8, 2010
As usual I have been very undisciplined in keeping my blog active. Sorry, peeps. Well here is my column from the Penang Economic Monthly 🙂 This time, on safety in the cities… They’ve also put it up on The Malaysian Insider here.
Safety In The Cities
A horrific incident occurred in April in Shah Alam, Selangor, that will sadly be merely an additional statistic in the growing list of police shootings recorded in recent times.
Fifteen-year-old Aminulrasyid Amzah was shot to death by police manning a roadblock. He was driving without a licence at 2am and, to avoid the police check, he reportedly backed into several policemen instead. He was shot dead whilst a passenger in the car managed to escape. The death of this teenager sent shockwaves throughout the country.
Whilst it is true that the public has been clamouring for greater police surveillance to improve safety and security in the cities, the “trigger-happy” behaviour by our men in blue is not helping to combat crime. In fact, it hurts further public confidence in our law enforcers.
In a survey conducted by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research released in January 2010, “crime and public safety” was listed as one of the top five concerns in Peninsular Malaysia. In November 2009, the Home Ministry’s website opinion polls showed that 97 per cent or 9,729 out of 10,060 respondents felt unsafe because of the high crime rate, and 95 per cent felt that their safety was not guaranteed. This has been a consistent concern, corresponding to the alarming rise in crime figures over the last 10 years. For example, violent crime increased by 8.7 per cent in the first five months of 2007 compared with the same period the previous year. Violent crime increased by 85 per cent between 2003 and 2006. Rape cases increased by 95 per cent in 2009. Selangor records the highest crime rates for both petty and violent crimes.
There is also a worrying increase in house burglaries in 2009, a year that recorded a relative jump of such crimes taking place in broad daylight compared to night-time.
The “Crime Index”, a measure kept by the Royal Malaysian Police, rose by 45 per cent between 2003 and 2007 from 156,315 to 224,298 cases. (Note: It was not possible to obtain more recent crime index figures). Crimes that are reported with sufficient regularity and given sufficient significance are considered meaningful to the index. An occurrence is considered a crime when it is reported either by the victim or a witness, or on the initiative of the police upon discovery of a criminal activity. The index describes two categories of crime, namely violent and property crime, with snatch thefts being considered a separate and unique category due to its frequency. Although this index is the only possible means of measuring crime in the country, the police also recognise “dark figures”, which is the gap between reported and unreported crime.
The government’s efforts
Given our dire situation, how should policies be shaped to ensure safety in our cities?
April 29, 2010
Hot off the press, the latest Penang Economic Monthly has my take on Local Council Elections. Go grab one off the stands today!
Locating the Demos in Democracy
Local government elections were abolished by the Malaysian federal government in 1976 despite suggestions to the contrary by the body set up to study them. Thirty-five years later, the State governments of Penang and Selangor are asking for federal support in reintroducing them. If local councillors were elected instead of appointed, a mature electorate would be able to hold them accountable.
Both the state governments and Penang and Selangor announced in March this year that they had written separate letters to the Election Commission asking for local government elections to be conducted in their respective states. Their reasons for doing so were to strengthen democracy by having local representatives elected and not appointed, as they are now. This would enhance accountability in public administration.
In an immediate reaction, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak rejected this, stating that such a move would not necessarily improve services to the people. According to him, local council elections would focus upon campaigning and politicking instead. If indeed “campaigning and politicking” are impediments to good governance, then by his very own argument both federal and state elections should equally be abolished in order for the executive to concentrate on “better service delivery”.
Local Government Elections: Looking Back
In fact, it is ironic for any party to vehemently oppose local government elections since although they may seem alien today, they were in fact a common enough practice of Malaya in the past. The first partial election was held in the Municipal Commission of George Town in 1857, but this was short-lived as they were abolished in 1913. It was only much later when the Local Authorities Election Ordinance of 1950 was enacted that allowed for local government elections, as well as participation of political parties.
Thus, the Municipal Council of George Town held its elections in 1951, but the more significant event was in 1952, when elections were held for first time for the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council. As the capital of the Federation, this would set the trend for elections at the state and federal government levels at a later stage. Following Kuala Lumpur, local elections were then held in Kuantan, Kota Bahru, Seremban, Ipoh and Malacca all the way up to 1960. Such elections were the practice for representatives at city councils, municipal councils, town councils, town boards, rural district councils and local councils.
April 23, 2010
First Published in the Penang Economic Monthly, hmm.. either the February or March 2010 issue, I forget. One of those 😀
Sustainable Cities in Penang and Selangor: Are We?
(On Environmental and Sustainability Issues)
Much has been said about the little that emerged from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December 2009. Well, the Copenhagen Accord was finally signed by major economies including the US and China, committing to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius. However, there were no specified caps on emissions to achieve this objective, and neither were there legal conditions to keep this in check. Although much more could and should have been accomplished, the global uproar over its lack thereof reflected the significant shift worldwide towards environmental concerns.
Climate change and environmental issues have been the buzz phrases of the past two years, partly thanks to Hollywood’s documentaries “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The 11th Hour”, which address the growing fears of carbon emissions and climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, Malaysia emitted 6.68 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita in 2007, more than twice the world’s average and ranking it the fourth highest in the region after Brunei, Taipei and Singapore. However, compared to these three countries, Malaysia’s emission per capita percentage change between 1990 and 2007 was the highest, growing by a massive 143%.
Malaysia’s expanding carbon footprint jolted the Federal Government into including “Green Technology” as part of the Ministry of Energy and Water’s portfolio and in July 2009 launched its National Green Technology Policy, although a plan has not yet been released. More recently, Prime Minister Najib made a bold pledge during the Copenhagen conference to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent within the next 10 years, which seems rather bold given increasing emphases on establishing Malaysia as a regional aviation hub and dismal attempts at improving public transportation services.
Sometime last year (I think it was the first quarter of 2009), I was asked to write a piece on economic reform for a “Second Malaysia”. It was for (at the time) a new and upcoming Chinese alternative website called The Rock News. Today, the site is flourishing- congratulations is owed to its facilitators. They were doing a series of articles focusing on different areas such as culture, history, the arts, judiciary, and the topic requested of me was economics. The target audience was for a very pop-heavy reading group (if I remember correctly) hence kept as general reading.
Of course, me being me (a “Cina murtad”), I cannot read Chinese and hence never knew if my article finally got translated and published. [Aside: As far as I know, my maternal great grandmother came from Java and blended into the Peranakan society upon reaching Peninsular Malaya, so no feelings of guilt here!]
Economic Reform for Birthing a New Malaysia
Ordinary Malaysians like you and I know that Malaysia’s economic performance has only been lacklustre in recent years. We have gone past the stage of convincing ourselves that those announcements painting a glowing picture of financial health and vibrancy had anything substantial about them. The frustrating thing about it is that Malaysia had all the right factors to make the equation work: abundant natural resources, strategic location, perfect weather conditions with no natural disasters, good soil, and a generally stable political climate. Perhaps it is possible to state that Malaysia had good economic growth in the past two decades, yes. But to pat ourselves on the back claiming that we outdid ourselves is farcical; Malaysia has never lived up to its true economic potential, and this will not change unless some drastic economic reform is undertaken immediately.
March 8th 2008 marked the birth of a new political Malaysia, one in which individuals finally saw the potential of their decisions in changing a leadership landscape. With the Pakatan Rakyat controlling five state governments (now reduced to four with the recent onslaught on Perak) and denying the Barisan Nasional its traditional two-third majority at Parliament level, citizens finally felt the political impasse had broken through. Subject to debate, the ground conditions for democracy have been ripe and raw for the consuming, people more willing and eager to express themselves. Except for the rule of law that the present Federal Government seems too ignorant of, Malaysian society is experiencing a new chapter in its political history.
The same cannot be said of the economic system of the nation. Where freedom of expression has prospered, economic principle has faltered. For forty years Malaysia has tasted stale, irrelevant policy crafted in a manner intended to pacify instead of liberate, break down instead of build up for the most part. What is needed to carry the country forward is a breakdown of our current economic model and a revolutionary reconstruction of a new one.
First published in the Penang Economic Monthly, February 2010 Issue.
CAT in Action: Competency, Accountability and Transparency in the Pakatan States
One of the electoral themes that took the now-governing Pakatan Rakyat states by storm was that of transparency and accountability. Indeed, harsh criticisms of corruption, financial mismanagement, wastage and abuse of power was levelled against their predecessor Barisan Nasional at both the state and national level. The stories worked: voters were angry and disgusted at their tax-paying money having gone down the drain to advantage a privileged few. Indeed, Malaysia dropped from 47th in 2008 to 56th place in 2009, in Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index, its worst ranking in 15 years.
Two years into their administration, what exactly has been done in order to fulfill their pledges of CAT – competency, accountability and transparency – that the Pakatan Rakyat states have waxed lyrical about? This article explores the attempts made by the state governments in improving administrative efficiency through transparency and accountability measures and the challenges encountered therein.
The reason for placing transparency as a priority is simple: the more information that is available to the public from the administration, the more likely it is for governments to behave responsibly in order to uphold standards and commitments. This also allows citizens to obtain, analyse, and evaluate for themselves details about projects carried out by the government. A mature democracy requires that people are in this manner empowered. However, transparency is often a principle that many leaders champion yet fail to translate into reality. It is easy to make motherhood statements and pronouncements of reform, as Malaysians recall former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi doing, but the devil lies in the detail, where laborious standards and stringent guidelines are required.
Again, first published in the Penang Economic Monthly.. I think the March 2010 issue.
Towards Better Urban Public Transport
The image of a CEO with a full business suit opting to hop on an LRT or monorail instead of taking his chaffeur-driven car is not one we would imagine, although this is common practice in countries with an efficient public transport system. Singapore, for example, has more than 60 percent of its population taking public transport, a drastic difference from Malaysia with only 10 percent. Today, only 60 percent of the population resides within 400 metres of a public transport route. Anyone residing in Penang or the Klang Valley can testify to experiencing horrid traffic jams and wasting hours weaving through a daily gridlock on the road.
There are many factors leading to the massive traffic congestion in the urban centres of both Penang and the Klang Valley today, one of which was the government’s past policy of increasing cars on the road thereby supporting the local car industry. Instead of attempting to limit private vehicles on roads, this led to the commissioning of elevated highways and additional bridges. Mandatory payments for city access during peak hours would have instead reduced the number of cars on the road. There needs to therefore be a modal shift away from private to public transport use.
Too Many Cooks
The other major problem is the multiple players involved in managing public transport in Malaysia, unwieldy and terribly uncoordinated. The Ministry of Transport (MOT) regulates the overall transportation network but is generally not involved in its maintenance or network planning. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) owns – through MOF Incorporated – the government-linked companies, Prasarana Berhad which builds or buys public transportation assets, Prasarana subsidiaries RapidKL Sdn. Bhd., RapidPenang Sdn. Bhd., and KLStarrail Sdn. Bhd., which operates the assets owned by Prasarana, and Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB). If you think that’s complicated, there’s more.
First published in the Penang Economic Monthly.
Revisiting the Federalist System:
Federal-State Relations in Malaysia
Although Malaysia is officially a federalism, over the years the central government has responded to the opposition by tightening their terms of power sharing across tiers. This has even more interesting dimensions when one considers the political developments that have taken place in light of the March 2008 election results, where the “opposition” became the state governments of five states in the country. Now officially governing in Penang, Selangor, Kedah and Kelantan (the status of government in Perak is debateable), what effects has this predominantly centralised government had on the way Pakatan states operate? How have Pakatan states especially in Penang and Selangor responded to this situation? What are the alternatives available to these state governments, given current limitations?
There are several reasons for this highly centralised government, although by definition a federalism is one in which the federal and state governments have their separate and distinctive powers. In its proper form, it is a system of government that allows simultaneous recognition of diversity and common identity. In a country as diverse as Malaysia, federalism would be an ideal system of ensuring states preserve their individual and regional identities. However, despite the fact that Malaysia is a federalism, this exists perhaps only on paper especially in recent years.
“Allah” Debate: Dealing with False Insecurities
11th Jan 2010 (Published in Malaysiakini here)
News of the recent series of attacks against churches across Malaysia has sent shockwaves to all. Although there have been tensions in the past few years between different religious groups, few imagined that these could ever descend into violence such as the kind experienced recently. Within three days, there were arson attacks on at least eight churches in various locations throughout the country (in Klang Valley, Perak, Melaka, Sarawak and Seremban), in which the Metro Tabernacle church had its ground floor (its administrative office) entirely destroyed.
Although police investigations are ongoing, many speculate that the attacks were linked to a controversial court ruling on the 31st December 2009, effectively allowing the Catholic newsletter The Herald to use “Allah” in reference to God in its Malay edition. “Allah” has been used for God amongst the Malay-speaking East Malaysian Christians for centuries, but problems only arose in 2007 when the Home Ministry threatened not to renew The Herald’s publishing licence. Some have insinuated that it was only after the newsletter began carrying critical pieces against the government that the clampdown began.
The court ruling has stirred uneasiness amongst certain sections of the Muslim community, and this has been aggravated by regular racist and inflammatory articles in a mainstream newspaper Utusan Malaysia. These groups say it loud and clear that “Allah is for Muslims only”. It is therefore important to identify the various fears and insecurities involved in this highly emotional issue.